A friend shared on Facebook an article at China Daily that featured Hong Kong’s ‘other’ carrier Hong Kong Airlines making hefty profits after it was chartered to fly live dolphins from Japan to Vietnam.

Although we don’t interfere with how they do business – we mind our own – the sad thing about it is that the company seems to focus only on profits and apparently neglecting the welfare of the animals it carried. If the trail of carbon footprint isn’t enough, the company appears to take pride in putting lives of marine animals at risk while laughing their way to the bank.

That Boeing 733F cargo plane didn’t carry mere cargo like frozen meat or fresh flowers, it held the lives of five dolphins constrained in a makeshift structure that reminds me of caged housing at Hong Kong’s poorer neighborhoods. Given the journey time between Osaka and Hanoi and the brief refueling stop in Hong Kong, these adorable dolphins must have endured at these atrocious conditions for at least seven hours. Who knows how long the ground transport took.

Photo credit: Red Door News, Hong Kong

Such is the stark reality for animals involved in the entertainment industry. Plucked from their natural habitat, these animals – you can include those you find at a local zoo or theme park – are used in shows that attract attention and curiosity among paying visitors. Unlike Crown Relocations, whose effort to deliver pandas safely from China to Hong Kong was a source of pride, Hong Kong Airlines may not want to be publicly acknowledged for this flight. All it wanted was the monetary bonanza that outstrips even its most profitable passenger route.

And why not? Hong Kong Airlines earned HK$850,000 (US$109,600) for the one-way trip.

The monetary figure  was so eye-popping that the airline issued a company-wide memo that also featured the image of the dolphins in their makeshift cages.

“It is the first time for Hong Kong Airlines to fly this kind of large live animal in its history,” the memo reads. “The smooth handling of such special cargo which is time sensitive and vulnerable, demonstrates that Hongkong Airlines cargo handling capability has further improved.”

The memo goes on: “The B733F fleet utilization rate is increased by operating this charter flight during the aircraft spare time, and an extra cargo revenue income of HK$850,000 (including our own cargo sales income on the position sectors) has been achieved, which equivalent to HK$77,000 per block hour.”

With the “success” of this delivery, the airline hopes to land a similar lucrative deal in the future.

“Based on the experience we have obtained this time, Hong Kong Airlines cargo will develop the business onwards,” the memo continues to say.

The image has been shared and re-shared across social media to raise awareness among social media users. Hopefully the message gets across and advocates get the sympathy and support of the public, in behalf of these poor animals.

Certainly transporting of animals comes at a cost. They need special carriages and require extra manpower to handle them. A moving aircraft certainly isn’t a comfortable place for animals. If flying is terrible on human ears, how much more will it be for creatures like dolphins who make use of sonar when communicating with fellow dolphins? What about other animals who endure the same agony as they leave their natural habitat for good? Monkeys or elephants, lions or tigers, sedated or not, I believe they still feel pain.

So the next time we go to a theme park to be amused by the antics these animals are doing, it’s good to think about what goes behind these attractions that are presented to us. Long hours of travel from their habitat and social networks, stressful training and uncertain future once their entertainment value reaches its end. It’s a vicious cycle.

China Daily has been trying to get the views of Hong Kong Airlines but questions remain unanswered, as representatives remained tight-lipped regarding the case. Perhaps out of ignorance, the company isn’t prepared to make a statement aimed at clearing its name. It remains to be seen whether its pride described in the memo turns into shame.

As more people are aware of the situation, the ball is in Hong Kong Airlines’ court. The clock is ticking.